African sports stars who inspire

Caster Semenya  became a media darling after she won the 800m race at the 2009 World Championship. However, the adulation soon turned into scrutiny when she was subjected to gender testing after exhibiting high levels of testosterone. In a matter of weeks, Caster became fodder for the international press. Her career hung in limbo and she fell into a depression that threatened to end dream of running in the Olympics. However, due to intense pressure from gender advocacy groups, the ANC and South Africa, the International Association of Athletics recognized Semeneya as a female. Caster managed to put this incident behind her and went on to represent South Africa in the 2012 Olympics.

Antonia de Fatima Faia is one of the few Judokas from Africa who has earned the stripes to compete on the international stage. Born in Angola, Antonia won the bronze medal in the 2012 Judo World Championships in Romania and was tapped as a gold contender for the London Olympics. Although she did not win a medal, Antonia still remains a worthy opponent in any Judo competition.

Born in Arsella, Ethiopia, Haile Gebrselassie is a long distance runner to reckon with.  As a little boy growing up in a poor village with no amenities, he used to run 10Km just  to get to school. Judging by his accomplishments, it seems he has never stopped for a breath. He has 2 Olympic gold medals, 4 gold medals from the World Championships and 4 gold medals from the World Indoor Championships. At 40 years old, he shows no sign of slowing down. On the contrary, Haile Gebrselassie is on the run to break as many masters records as his sinewy body will allow.

Before the soccer studs like Drogba and Balotelli dominated the turf, there  was Abedi Ayew Pele. A ferocious soccer player from a village in northern Ghana. He dribbled his way out of poverty and into the Premier European league playing for Marseille. Abedi’s agility on the field won the hearts of European fans.

But despie of his success abroad, he remained committed to Ghana. As captain of the Black Stars, he propelled the team to the fore of African football. Eventhough he hung his boots in 2000, he has never fully retired from football. He created F.C. Nania, a football academy to train a new generation of talent to excel on the international scene like he did. Under his tutelage, his sons Andre Ayew and Jordan Ayew are also charting their own paths in the European league.

Daniel Teklehaimanot is likely the best cyclist in Africa. As a young Eritrean child, he used to watch cycling on TV dreaming that one day he would  master the sport. Fervently pursuing this goal, Daniel, has become one of the few cyclist from the continent who compete in the World Tour race, a privilege that was extended to him after the World Cycling Centre invited him to train in Switzerland. In 2009, Daniel was diagnosed with a rare heart condition called Tachcardia. After a successful surgery, he hopped onto a bike and started racing again. Daniel Teklehaimanot is now signed to the Australian cycling team GreenEDGE.

Mary Keitany is known amongst marathon runners for the speed with which she dashes from the starting point and blazes to the finish line. Raised in an underserved region in Kenya called Rift Valley, Mary started running at age 18 and quickly leveraged her love for long distance running as a means to exit poverty. In 2009, she bounced back from giving birth to her first child to win the World Half Marathon championship. In April 2012, she won the Virgin London Marathon at 2:19:19. She has won the London marathon twice and is currently pregnant with her second child.


During the 2012 olympics, a handful of people had to compete under the Olympic flag because they officially did not have a country. Guor Marial, a refugee from South Sudan was one of them. He fled South Sudan when he was 7 years old and was kidnapped twice and forced into child labour before he gained asylum in the US. Against all odds, he learnt English and graduated from Iowa state university with a degree in chemistry and a dream to one day compete in the Olympics. In July 2012, South Sudan had seceded from Sudan for one year, but it had not yet been recognized by the International Olympic Committee. It seemed unlikely that Guor would be able to compete in the games, but as is characteristic of this  former lost boy, he refused to give up. An opportunity for his dream to come true seemed imminent when Sudan offered to grant him a spot on their national team. As a matter of principle, Guor refused to run for the country that had killed several generations of his family. When all seemed lost, the IOC granted an exception to allow Guor to represent his country, South Sudan, under the Olympic Flag.

14 years old and already one of the fastest swinmmers in Africa, Joyce Tafatatha from Malawi, was one of the youngest atlethes to compete in the Olympics. She won several regional competitions and made a name for herself when she swam 50m at an impressive 27.74 during the summer Olympics.

28 year old Amantle Montsho’s story reads like a folklore. Growing up in Botswana she used to chase after ostriches and race the local boys. This simple past time helped Amantle build up her speed and now she holds the 2011 world record for 400M. She has represented Bostwana on the international scene since 2004, winning several medals at the African Championship games. Once known as a daughter of a cattle herder Amantle has earned a sponsorship from Nike and she has turned the financial tide of her family.  But perhaps her most significant achievement is she has given young Botswanians something she did not have when she was growing up -a role model.




Women taking Africa “by the horn”

I recently set out on a mission to find successful women who are transforming their African communities. To make this challenging task more exciting, I decided to visit countries at the lowest rank of every World Bank economic index. With the help of old friends from Queen’s, I mapped out an itinerary that took me from Toronto to Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Djibouti. Along the way, I met many amazing people, and I’d like to share the especially inspiring stories of two women, who are “taking Africa by the horn.”

I arrived in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa one evening mid-June thoroughly confused. According to my watch, it was 8 pm and a translucent darkness had fallen over the city. However, the taxi driver who picked me up at Bole International Airport had tried to convince me that according to Ethiopia’s orthodox calendar, it was actually 2 pm on the third day of a month called Sanni in the year 2004. Out of sheer bewilderment, I stuck my head out of the window of the cab to clear my head and enjoy the cool breeze sashaying through the city as pedestrians darted dangerously between cars.I was in Addis Ababa to interview Bethlehem Alemu, the woman with the fastest growing brand in Africa. I met her at the flagship shop of soleRebels, a multi-million dollar shoe company she started in 2005. In a neatly decorated room surrounded by loafers and flip-flops, I discovered that Bethlehem grew up in an impoverished neighbourhood in Addis Ababa. Fueled by a strong desire to create employment opportunities there, she assembled community artisans to start manufacturing shoes out of old car tires.

As demand for her climate-practical high-quality shoes soared, she expanded her operations to employ 200 local artisans and began exporting Ethiopia’s eco-sensible shoes to Europe, North America, and Asia. With a simple dream to better the conditions in her community, Bethlehem Alemu has been able to build a highly profitable business that has earned her accolades and awards at home and abroad.

After a week in Ethiopia, I boarded a plane to South Sudan, the newest African country to gain independence. As the plane began its rapid descent, my heart rate quickened. I did not know what to expect of a land that had been under the ruthless dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir of Sudan. For decades, the two regions engaged in guerilla warfare until South Sudan seceded and was recognized by the world on July 1, 2011. Since gaining independence, thousands of South Sudanese have returned “from exile” to rebuild their homeland. As I strolled through the streets of Juba, the capital city, I saw signs that South Sudan is ready for the world.

The roads are lined with wooden kiosks out of which petty traders sell phone cards and food items. The city is filled with construction workers hauling cement to build houses and hotels supported by the influx of foreign investment. However, by far the most impressive evidence of progress I saw was in a little yellow house with a white sign that read “The Roots Project.” This non-profit organization was established by a young girl called Anyieth D’wol to teach trade skills to underserved women in South Sudan.On the sweltering hot day that I visited the Roots Project, Hargeisa, the manager, was helping a group of 20 women with their handiwork. With children strapped on their backs and spools between their toes, the women ­delicately threaded beads into necklaces which they would later sell in the markets. The women use the income they earn to ­support their families and help start their own businesses. Although Hargeisa and her team may not be on the same financial ­platform as soleRebels, the success of this ­outreach program lies in its commitment to rebuild a country by empowering the most marginalized sector of its population.

I left Juba with a deep sense of optimism that with people like Hargiesa leading the way, South Sudan is being steered in the right direction.

Bethlehem and Hargeisa are just two of the amazing women I met during my three-week expedition across the Horn of Africa. Each of them demonstrates that with minimal resources and unwavering resolve, a single person can change lives and transform communities – even countries.

This article originally appeared in the Queen’s Alumni Review 2012 Issue #4

Invest in South Sudan

Africa’s newest country, South Sudan is now open for business but one of the greatest challenges it is facing is developing its infrastructure especially in the hospitality industry. Savvy businessman like Mahari Michael are building hotels in Juba to take advantage of this lucrative investment opportunity. AmmazingSeries visited his hotel Juba Continental to find out why he decided to invest in South Sudan.